Thyroid cancer begins in the thyroid gland. This is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that’s located in your neck. The thyroid gland makes many hormones that work to regulate your metabolism.
There are many different treatment options for thyroid cancer. This article will dive deeper into these treatment options and explore thyroid cancer outcomes.
The treatment of any cancer, including thyroid cancer, depends on several different factors. These include:
- the type of thyroid cancer that you have
- the extent, or stage, of your thyroid cancer
- the grade of the cancer, which is how abnormal cancer cells look under a microscope
- whether or not certain genetic changes are present in cancer cells
- your age and overall health
- your personal preference
Overall, a treatment team of different medical professionals will work together to develop a treatment plan tailored to you. This will involve one or more types of therapies, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
This table gives an overview of the
Let’s take a look at the different treatments for thyroid cancer.
Most types of thyroid cancer are treated using surgery. There are several different types of surgical procedures that may be used:
- Lobectomy: Your thyroid is made up of two lobes. A lobectomy focuses on removing the lobe of the thyroid where the cancer is found. It’s generally used when the cancer is still small.
- Near-total thyroidectomy: A near-total thyroidectomy removes most, but not all, of the thyroid.
- Total thyroidectomy: A total thyroidectomy removes the entire thyroid.
During surgery, lymph nodes may also be removed. These can be examined under a microscope to determine if your cancer has spread into the surrounding lymph nodes.
Cells in your thyroid absorb iodine in your body. As such, radioactive iodine (RAI) can be used to treat thyroid cancer. Simply put, thyroid cells absorb the RAI, after which its radioactivity destroys them.
RAI is typically used after surgery to eliminate any remaining thyroid and thyroid cancer cells in the body. Because RAI is taken orally, it can go to other areas of the body as well, killing any thyroid cancer cells that may have spread (metastasized).
Your thyroid makes hormones, particularly thyroid hormone, that are very important for regulating your metabolism. Because of this, if you’ve had a thyroidectomy, you’ll need to take thyroid hormone replacement pills.
Higher levels of thyroid hormone can also suppress levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is made by your pituitary gland.
TSH normally tells your thyroid to make thyroid hormone and may also promote the growth of thyroid cells and possibly thyroid cancer. As such, hormone therapy may also reduce the risk of your thyroid cancer coming back (recurring).
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to destroy cancer cells. There are several types of radiation therapy. The one that’s used for thyroid cancer is called external-beam radiation therapy.
External-beam radiation therapy uses a machine that’s located outside of your body to direct the radiation at the affected area. It may be used if your cancer doesn’t respond to treatment with RAI or has spread to more distant areas of the body, like the lungs or liver
Chemotherapy uses drugs that can kill cancer cells or inhibit their growth. It’s typically injected into a vein or taken orally.
Generally speaking, chemotherapy is a relatively uncommon type of treatment for thyroid cancer. But it may be used for cancers that are resistant to other types of treatment or that have metastasized.
A kinase is a protein within a cell that tells it to grow and divide. Because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than many other cell types, targeting kinases can help prevent the growth of cancer.
Like chemotherapy, targeted therapy may be used if the cancer has metastasized or if other treatments haven’t been effective. Some examples of targeted therapy drugs used for thyroid cancer include:
- lenvatinib (Lenvima)
- sorafenib (Nexavar)
- vandetanib (Calpresa)
In general, the outlook for people with thyroid cancer is typically good. But it’s important to remember that there are several factors that can affect outlook. These include:
- the specific type of thyroid cancer that you have
- the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed
- how the cancer responds to treatment
- your age and overall health
The table below shows the 5-year survival rates for thyroid cancer.
|Stage of cancer
|5-year survival rate
|The overall 5-year survival rate for thyroid cancer
|When thyroid cancer remains localized in the thyroid
|If thyroid cancer has spread into nearby lymph nodes
|When thyroid cancer has spread to most distant areas of the body
It’s important to know that the above statistics are based on a large number of people with thyroid cancer over many years. They don’t reflect advances in treatment or individual factors like age and overall health.
Is surgery the most common treatment for thyroid cancer?
Yes. Most people that are diagnosed with thyroid cancer can expect to have some form of surgery as a part of their treatment plan.
How long does treatment for thyroid cancer take?
The answer to this question depends on factors like the type of treatment recommended as well as how the cancer responds to that treatment. Your treatment team can give you a better idea of what to expect.
Is thyroid cancer curable?
According to the ACS, most thyroid cancers
Can thyroid cancer metastasize to other parts of the body?
Can thyroid cancer return after initial treatment?
Yes. A 2021 paper notes that previous research has found that 8% to 28% of people with papillary thyroid cancer experience a tumor recurrence after treatment.
There are many potential treatments for thyroid cancer, the most common of which is surgery. Some of the others include RAI, hormone therapy, and radiation therapy.
The type of treatment that’s selected depends on factors like the type of cancer, its stage, and your age and overall health. It’s likely that your treatment plan will include a combination of different treatment types.
Thyroid cancer generally has a good outlook, especially if it hasn’t yet metastasized. Your treatment team can give you a better idea of what to expect in your individual situation.